Below we’ve collected a broad range of resources for you to explore. Please feel free to peruse the materials and let us know if you’d like to see something else related to intrapreneurs—it’s likely we’ve already written on the topic or would be happy to if we see there’s a need for more knowledge in this area.
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Memos to Stakeholders
Stories about intrapreneurs help bring out the intrapreneurial spirit. In most people the intrapreneurial spirit is there, it has just been suppressed by parents, school, and employers who wanted you to do what you were told. External forces like rewards and punishments are not what drives innovation. Rather it is internal factors like purpose, values, vision, and one’s sense of what needs to be done.
The first step in becoming an intrapreneur is a change in attitude from resigned obedience to inspired self-direction and self-empowerment. In our experience stories about courageous intrapreneurs are a most effective way to bring out the intrapreneurial spirit in both yourself and in others. So often, after they heard a few intrapreneurial stores I have heard students say, “Now suddenly I know what I am. I am an intrapreneur.”
3M in its heyday as one of the most innovative companies in the US created an outstanding culture of intrapreneurship by repeatedly telling stories of outrageously courageous intrapreneurs and the managers who tolerated and supported them. These stories shaped the behavior of both managers and would-be intrapreneurs. The stories encouraged intrapreneurial courage and sticking to your beliefs even in the face of management disapproval and even orders to stop. And they featured managers and leaders who tolerated and even celebrated such behavior. Here is one example of the stories that created the 3M culture.
In 1929 3M’s legendary leader, William McKnight, had just bought a company that had in abundance of quartz in the ground. He issued a strategic challenge to the company to find a use for the quartz.
They tried using broken up quartz to create the granules that form the top coating on asphalt shingles, which were just becoming a significant competitor to wood and stone shingles.
As often occurs in 3M stories, this first effort failed. The quartz granules did not protect the asphalt from UV radiation, which broke down the asphalt and caused a number of embarrassing roof failures.
Not giving up, 3M found a grey igneous rock quarry 5 miles from the plant. The greystone could be broken up in granules that did a great job blocking UV. However, 3M still needed something more to distinguish its granules from others in the marketplace.
George Swenson, a research chemist, learned that what the market really wanted was durable and consistent colored granules to create roofs of different colors. That would give 3M the competitive advantage it needed. But making any color stick to the stone and last for decades in harsh sunlight was not easy. George’s solution was to create a ceramic coating on the stone granules with the color diffused throughout the coating.
It did not go well. Experiment after experiment failed. Finally his boss told him to stop working on coloring the granules. He didn’t. His boss told him again, but he still didn’t stop. Finally his exasperated boss fired him.
The next day George showed up for work punctually and went on developing ceramic coatings for roofing granules. His boss said, “Didn’t you hear me? I fired you yesterday. You don’t work here anymore.”
George replied, “Well, I understand that that means that you are not going to pay me, but does it also mean I can’t work on roofing granules?”
Impressed by his determination, his boss let him continue to use the lab’s resources on his own time. Once George got his idea to work, 3M rehired him and he went on to build and run 3M’s large and profitable roofing granule business. 3M is a still a major player in that business today.
By repeating this story and others like it over and over, 3M leadership created a culture that respected the intrinsic motivation of the intrapreneur more than obedience. The courage, grit, and persistence that it takes to keep going in the face of the inevitable failures and resistances in pursuing an innovation does not come from being told to innovate. It comes from deep commitment to a specific personal vision of a way to make the world and the company better off. That is what stories like George Swenson celebrate. Though true, the stories serve as the “myths” that define the culture.
In this section of the website we will post new stories illustrating the behavior of successful intrapreneurs. They’ll illustrate many aspects of what makes intrapreneurs successful including, for example, cooperation and teamwork as well as dogged persistence. Stay tuned and come back for more inspiring stories. Or tell us one from your own experience. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note in passing one of the obvious ways to reward intrapreneurs and encourage more of them to step forward is to let the intrapreneurs continue to run the businesses they create for as long as possible. While more highly trained managers may have advantages, the original intrapreneur is a pathfinder, a spotter of opportunities, a highly creative problem solver. Back them up with a good operations person and you have a winning combination. Compare Steve Jobs and Tim Cook’s success to the highly professional John Sculley who replaced Steve before Apple brought him back to save the company. For many years 3M promoted intrapreneurial teams to senior management positions with spectacular results.